ASD search for offensive spooks

James Riley
Editorial Director

The tech-spooky Australian Signals Directorate has been recruiting for offensive cyber operators this month to boost the nation’s digital warfare capability as a newly-released Federal government report describes the threat landscape we face.

The ASD wants a few good men and women to lock and load their keyboards and get involved in the ‘planning, coordination and delivery of cyber operations in support of Australian Government requirements.’

Someone in the ASD has a sense of humour. The Department of Defence web page advertising the positions asks potential cyber warriors if they want to ‘go covert with a licence to hack’ and get involved in ‘phishing weekends’ to ‘be a force for good and protect Australia from the dark side.’

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Successful applicants will be based in Sydney and earn up to $100K a year with 15.4 percent super on top.

The job ads come as the ASD seeks to make the offensive cyber force called for in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s $230 million Cyber Security Strategy a reality.

It also comes as the Australian Cyber Security Centre 2016 Threat Report – which came out Thursday – paints a picture of the digital dangers facing the country.

The cyber security report was at pains to differentiate between what it calls cyber incidents from cyberattacks and argues that the use of the term cyberattack to describe common cyber threats has diminished its meaning.

That said, some of the incidents described in the report’s case studies are pretty scary, such as the account of a cyber intrusion on the corporate network of an Australian critical infrastructure owner and operator.

The unnamed utility was robbed of sensitive information relating to its physical security after being infiltrated by an actor who got hold of legitimate credentials belonging to a staff member and a contractor.

The actor was able to get administrator privileges on the network.

CERT Australia, the Australian Federal Police and the ASD were involved in the investigation which eventually led to an offshore suspect being identified and arrested by cooperative foreign law enforcement.

The report said that between July 2015 and June 2016, CERT Australia responded to 14,804 cyber security incidents affecting Australian businesses.

Of these, 418 involved systems of national interest and critical infrastructure.

On the government system side, the report said that between 1 January 2015 and 30 June 2016, the ASD responded to 1095 cyber security incidents considered serious enough to require an operational response.

The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cyber Security Dan Tehan hinted that Australia was already conducting offensive cyber operations when interviewed over the cyber threat report by ABC radio.

Asked if Australia could go on the offensive such as the US has threatened over Russian-related hacking in America, Mr Tehan said the Prime Minister had made it clear for the first time that Australia has a cyber offensive capability.

“Now how we use that capability is something that we don’t publicly broadcast but you can look at what other countries are doing in this area to get a sense of how they approach it,” Mr Tehan told the ABC.

“But when it comes to the Australian Government, we’ve made it very clear we do have that cyber offensive capability and how we use that we will obviously not be broadcasting publicly,” he said.

Reacting to the publication of the threat report, Aaron Sharp, Verizon Australia’s Security Solutions Consultant said it showed that Australia, despite its geographic isolation, was similar to the rest of the western world.

“We like to think we are a bit special, but when it comes to cyber threats national borders are meaningless,” he said.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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